Janibek Alimkhanuly’s handlers had difficulty securing the type of opponent the WBO middleweight champion wanted for his second title defense.

BoxingScene.com has learned that the Kazakh southpaw therefore will defend his 160-pound championship against Steven Butler on May 13. ESPN will televise the Alimkhanuly-Butler bout as a 12-round main event, but the venue for the card they will headline hasn’t been solidified.

Former WBO junior middleweight champ Liam Smith is the WBO’s number one contender for Alimkhanuly’s title, but Smith is contractually obligated to an immediate rematch with Chris Eubank Jr.

Smith (33-3-1, 20 KOs) upset Eubank (32-3, 23 KOs) by fourth-round technical knockout January 21 at AO Arena in Manchester England. Liverpool’s Smith and Brighton’s Eubank don’t have a date for their second bout, but Smith is unavailable to challenge Alimkhanuly (13-0, 8 KOs) next due to their rematch clause.

Second-ranked Jaime Munguia (41-0, 33 KOs) wasn’t interested in battling Alimkhanuly, either. Butler is ranked sixth among the WBO’s middleweight contenders.

Montreal’s Butler (32-3-1, 26 KOs) has won four fights in a row since Mexican underdog Jose de Jesus Macias (28-11-4, 14 KOs, 7 KOs) surprisingly stopped him in the fifth round of their January 2021 bout in Cuernavaca, Mexico.

The 29-year-old Alimkhanuly, who is promoted by Bob Arum’s Top Rank Inc., will still be heavily favored in a fourth consecutive contest.  

The Oxnard, California resident had a tougher time than expected during his most recent fight against England’s Denzel Bentley, though. London’s Bentley (17-2-1, 14 KOs) withstood Alimkhanuly’s early onslaught to make their 12-round, 160-pound championship match competitive November 12 in Las Vegas.

Alimkhanuly still won on all three scorecards – 118-110, 116-112 and 116-112 – at Palms Casino Resort’s Pearl Concert Theater. He knocked out another British underdog, Danny Dignum (14-1-1, 8 KOs), in the second round of his prior appearance, which took place last May 21 at Resorts World Las Vegas, to win the WBO interim middleweight title.

The WBO removed the interim tag from Alimkhanuly’s championship when WBO middleweight champ Demetrius Andrade gave up his belt to move up to the 168-pound division.

Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.